The Creation of France

Chapter 1: Introduction

The nation-states of Europe have not always had their current borders. In fact, the vast majority of them have borders delineated within the last 150 years. The politics and wars of the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods were largely about attempts by individual rulers of territories to expand their holdings.

England was defined more-or-less within its current borders by the end of the eleventh century, although the lands running between it and its northern neighbour, Scotland, were fought over until the Union of the Crowns of the two nations in 1603 and the two countries not unified into a state until 1707. There are still many legal and political differences between them. Within Scotland, the Lordship of the Isles and the Orkneys were not subject to the Scottish kings until the time of James IV (1473 – 1513). 

Wales was subjected to English rule from the late thirteenth century, and brought into political and legal (although not cultural or linguistic) union with England in 1536.

Ireland continued to be fought over until the partition of the island in the early twentieth century – a struggle for control that is still relevant to modern politics. 

In Europe, the emergence of defined, centralised nations, similar to the polity of England, took much longer. Germany and Italy as we know them today are the product of the 1860s; Spain, although the union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon took place with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1469, remained (and perhaps still remains in 2018) a federation of individual kingdoms, whose laws were only gradually aligned.

The ambition of centralising the various territories that make up modern France under a single ruler was the dream of the French kings throughout the Middle Ages. The story is long and complicated, so this article can only give an outline.